I’ve lived in Southern California—specifically Santa Barbara—most of my life, and so feel personally connected to the icons of the area. In the seventies I led a training group at Jane Fonda’s ranch up by Painted Cave (a very cool community in the mountains above Santa Barbara). I’ve done therapy with various people in the music and film industries over the years including directors, writers, actors, and rock stars. Back when Arnold Schwarzenegger was first running for governor in a special election, I was genuinely torn between voting for him and the porn star that had somehow made it on the ballot. Mature judgment won out over adolescent humor and I voted for Arnold. Over the next seven years I’ve been mostly impressed with his attempts to administer what some people think is an ungovernable state due to political details like not being able to raise taxes (you need a two thirds majority which has been practically impossible in recent years) and partisan wrangling and gridlock that mirrors Washington D.C. I’m delighted Jerry Brown has returned as governor, and, as always, am hopeful about the future.
Arnold and Maria Schriver’s separation amid recent revelations of him secretly fathering a child over a decade ago with one of their house staff have magnetized attention from all around the world. In the midst of colossal public embarrassment and humiliation, Arnold, Maria, and their adult children have publicly affirmed their love and respect for each other. What stands out in what they’ve said is Arnold and Maria’s commitment to their children, and the kids’ loyalty and love towards both parents. People often justifiably view such statements as calculated P.R. creations of publicists, lawyers, and agents, and cynically assume the truth
—rage, betrayal, hatred, despair, greed, and narcissism—lurks invisible below the surface and tells the real
story. But, what if this family’s public sentiments are mostly the truth? If so, how could such love and caring exist in a family alongside such deception and sexual betrayal?
I am not a fan of secret affairs, as evidenced by my upcoming book, 100 Reasons to Not have the Secret Affair,
but my studies and experience show me that we like to make simple black and white moral judgments about complex issues. I believe Arnold to be heartbroken over the disintegration of his family, grieving for his wife, and dedicated to his children—he would stop almost any meeting in Sacramento to take calls from his kids. I believe Maria found herself in an impossible position where staying would constitute condoning unacceptable behavior, as well as giving up on the kind of intimacy she felt necessary in her marriage—intimacy apparently impossible with Arnold. How can intelligent, educated, and articulate (go ahead and laugh, but Arnold is an articulate guy) people go so crazy?
Westerners suffer from little or no practical education about sex, arousal, bonding, and fidelity. The following simple facts have been demonstrated by science, but are hardly ever taught to children, adolescents, and adults:
- Lust, romantic infatuation, and intimate bonding are drives that all humans share and that dominate much of our lives.
- People are programmed to be both monogamous and polygamous.
- The more powerful a man is, the more testosterone he generates and the more likely he is to have multiple sexual partners.
- People can lust after one person, be in love with another, and love a long-term spouse all at the same time.
- If someone allows one loophole to their monogamy commitment, they are vulnerable to talk themselves into cheating, and often eventually do cheat.
- People become reckless, selfish, and stupid when indulging loopholes and creating secret affairs. Simple sexual arousal makes us more impulsive and less self-aware.
- Long term satisfying intimacy usually requires increasing transparency and authenticity of partners, including transparency and authenticity about their sexual impulses, needs, yearnings, and relationship with each other.
Arnold was a famous womanizer and groper before he got married and while he was a film star. I’ve been hearing stories about him for decades. I don’t know if his friends and advisors got in his face about cleaning up his act, or if Maria confronted him and demanded that they grow as a couple to protect themselves from infidelity. Somehow I doubt that he’s had to deal much with such challenges.
I assume most people who knew Arnold either turned a blind eye to these activities or gave him a pass because he was an entitled, powerful man. I further assume he hid indiscretions from Maria and she didn’t push too hard to discover them. His friends and family didn’t do him any favors with this, because clearly he talked himself through a bunch of loopholes and just spaced out over the eventual impact on the family he cherished.
Humans are biologically driven to sense betrayal and deception. People are more fascinated with these things than profit/loss, potential gain, or beauty/ugliness. From an evolutionary standpoint this makes sense, since in early hunter/gatherer societies the ability to sense deception was clearly a huge survival advantage. We are also driven to do mate protection when we have passed from lust to romantic infatuation and further to intimate bonding. If our mate seems to be sexually bonding with another, we react with rage and jealousy. Over 25% of murders in this country involve sexual betrayal.
If we are not taught how to identify and work with all these forces to create the lives we want, we can have perilous reactions to the simple attractions that occur as a result of living in a social world full of men and women. I’ve worked with countless survivors of sexual betrayal, both individuals and couples. I’ve worked with couples and families where the father is discovered to have secretly fathered a child by another woman. Without exception, everyone is blown away
by the magnitude of suffering and disaster that follows such behavior. They didn’t know what was coming!
Why didn’t they know what arises from infidelity, loose birth control, and marital lies? Lack of education is absolutely a factor in such idiotic choices.
Beautiful and privileged as Maria and Arnold clearly were, they didn’t receive the education they needed to avoid their current catastrophe. I don’t believe Arnold was right or moral in his choices. To the contrary, I think he arrogantly allowed personal blindspots to injure him and his family terribly. I do believe that we as a culture should look a little deeper past morbid fascination and easy moral condemnations to the education we could provide—and mostly don’t provide— our citizens to help prevent and heal such catastrophes.
image via: IMDB